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A red letter day for Belmullet

Sport

HARD TO WATCH Belmullet players, including Conan Connor (centre) and Daithi Cosgrove (11) watch on during the closing stages of Sunday’s Mayo SFC semi-final win over Westport. Pic: Conor McKeown

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

WATCHING history being made by Belmullet last Sunday, beating Westport to qualify for the club’s first County Senior Final for 40 years, I couldn’t help but think how remarkable an achievement this is in so many ways.
It’s something that I didn’t think was possible if I’m being honest, considering how peripheral Belmullet is and how difficult it is for lads to be back at training with people working all over the country and beyond.
I didn’t think it was possible to get the cohesion and the game-plan (and the amount of training sessions together you need) to get to the level of understanding required to do it.
So, first and foremost, you have to give a whole load of credit (again) to Damien Mulligan, in particular, and to Peadar Gardiner, Eamon Dixon, Anthony Mills and Rowland McIntyre.
Belmullet had a very clear way of playing last Sunday; it might not be everyone’s cup of tea but there is absolute clarity in what everyone is doing and what everyone’s role is on the field. And that’s half the battle with any club team; if you know what you’re meant to be doing when you have the ball, and you know what you’re meant to be doing when you don’t have the ball, that’s so important.
Belmullet were totally comfortable keeping possession, they kept the ball away from Westport for long periods and that meant that Westport struggled to get into the game, especially in the first half.
At the same time that was a good way of getting Belmullet into the game.
It’s very difficult to quantify just how important this win is for Belmullet.
I’m so delighted for people like Eamon Dixon. And Eamon McAndrew who came on and kicked a late point; I played with Eamon and he’s my second cousin. That was a really ballsy score he kicked and was so vital. He’s been playing a long, long time for the club.
The same goes for Shane Nallen, a neighbour of my own at home. He played with such confidence and adventure in goal. Sure, he ran the risk of losing possession at times but he made the save he needed to make in the first half, kicked the ball well, and retained possession very well.
He was outstanding.
And then there’s Henry Gaughan, a contemporary of my own coming on for the last few minutes. I’m delighted for all those people.
There’s also so much to admire about the young lads in that team, most of whom I don’t know at all. You see the toughness and resilience they have, the physical bravery they have.
All the physical exchanges in the last few games they’ve played, Belmullet have been dominating those areas. Even during the third quarter on Sunday, when it looked like Westport were coming back into it, it was Belmullet’s physicality and willingness to put their bodies on the line that brought them back into the game.
Fionan Ryan put himself about, Evan Ivers was really physical, James Kelly has loads of experience and was the big, physical player he needed to be last Sunday, especially in the opening half.
Eoin O’Donoghue had a few tricky moments in the second half, but I thought there were some key balls that he won late on against Mark Moran, who looked sharp when he came on.
Westport will be very disappointed with how their year ended. They weren’t let play last Sunday and they didn’t play, apart from that third quarter where they got a bit of a run.
The damage was done really in the first half. They spent long periods without the ball, their key players couldn’t get involved, and they will feel this is an opportunity lost.
But you’re not going to win titles without being able to impose yourself on games against any team in a senior championship semi-final.
You have to be able to win more possession.

Ryan reminds us of his special talent
WHEN all is said and done, you can’t look beyond the fact that Belmullet are going to go as far as Ryan O’Donoghue will take them. And the more I watch of Ryan, the more he tells me that he is a player for big moments.
In the All-Ireland for Mayo back in September he was involved in big moments, with positive and negative contributions. Two weeks ago against Breaffy all the big moments revolved around him. Last Sunday he was involved in them again.
He kicks all his frees, gets the goal at the end, dispossesses Mark Moran for that crucial Eamon McAndrew point late on. . . He stood up in all those moments.
It had to be intimidating for him to go out last Sunday and be marked by the best Mayo footballer that I’ve ever seen in Lee Keegan. And Lee did some remarkable things in the semi-final too, he kept Ryan quiet for long periods and came up the field to score an amazing point himself.
But it’s that belief in himself, and courage that O’Donoghue has, and willingness to make something happen, and not be afraid of making a mistake or the consequences, I think they’re his best qualities as a footballer. And they’re amazing qualities to have — to be able to back yourself, over and over again.
He’s the leader of this Belmullet team and he’s doing such phenomenal work.
Everyone in Belmullet is so proud of what he’s done for Mayo over the last few seasons, but to add what he’s doing for the club on top of that, with all the pressure that’s on him, and to continue to deliver, he’s the best forward in Mayo at the moment.
And to lead this team into a County Final the way he has is remarkable.

3011 MPU

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